How Lifestyle Choices Can Influence the Risk of Diabetes

Man measuring his waist with a tape measure. An unhealthy lifestyle can increase the risk of developing diabetes

By Stefan Amisten – Medical Writer, Expert & Research Scientist

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make the hormone insulin, or when the body cannot respond appropriately to the insulin that it produces. The body uses glucose from the foods we eat for energy, or to store it for future use. This means that if diabetes is left untreated, it can lead to elevated levels of blood glucose.

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

There are two types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2 – with Type 2 diabetes being the most common which we will discuss in this article.

Insulin resistance, which is common in type 2 diabetes, is when the body no longer responds adequately to the insulin that is being produced. Insulin resistance is closely associated with obesity.

Developing type 2 diabetes is often due to a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors, which means that understanding what these lifestyle factors are is the first step towards reducing the risk or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes.

A man taking a blood test.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?

There are many factors that can lead to developing type 2 diabetes, from your lifestyle choices, to genetics, family history and certain medications. We deep dive into the three main lifestyle choices that can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

1) Diet

Weight gain in middle‐aged adults can often be a result of excess calorie intake from refined sugars and highly processed carbohydrates such as potatoes and crisps, pasta, and sugar‐sweetened beverages. Whereas, in contrast, consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy may help prevent weight gain. Overall, a so‐called ‘Western diet’, contains large amounts of high glycaemic index carbohydrate rich-foods, which is associated with an increased risk of developing insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.

2) Lack of physical activity

A lack of physical activity in adolescence predisposes one for obesity in young adulthood. In fact, around 1 million deaths per year in Europe are attributable to physical inactivity, which is the underlying cause of 7% of all cases of type 2 diabetes in Europe.

3) Obesity

Being overweight (BMI 25‐30 kg/m2) or obese (BMI 30 kg/m2 or above) significantly increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Obesity is influenced not only by diet but also physical inactivity. Additionally, obesity has been associated with an increased risk of cancer, hypertension, stroke and cardiovascular disease in both men and women.

Lifestyle Factors that Reduce the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes

Luckily, the main causes of developing type 2 diabetes are modifiable, meaning that by making healthier lifestyle choices, you can help reduce your risk of getting diabetes or manage it better. By making these simple changes, many people will either prevent the development of type 2 diabetes or potentially out their diabetes into remission.

1) Diet

It’s important to understand what foods you should avoid when you have type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, and low in red or processed meats, sugar‐sweetened beverages and refined grains can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

2) Physical activity

Physical activity is a key intervention for the management of type 2 diabetes, as regular physical exercise not only can help improve blood glucose control, but also may delay or reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

In fact, structured interventions that combine physical activity with modest weight loss more than halves the risk of type 2 diabetes in high‐risk populations. The NHS therefore recommends incorporating at least 2.5 hours per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity as part of lifestyle changes to prevent type 2 diabetes onset in high‐risk adults.

3) Weight loss

Overweight adults with elevated blood glucose levels may delay the onset or reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing weight, and these protective effects appear to be sustained for more than 10 years. In overweight and obese individuals with type 2 diabetes, even modest weight loss (~5% of total body weight) improves glycaemic control.

To put this in perspective, a 5% total body weight reduction equals 3.75, 5, or 6.25 kg for people weighing 75, 100, or 125 kg, respectively. Based on these findings, Diabetes UK recommends that people at risk of diabetes should aim for a 5% body weight reduction, and also increase their moderate physical activity to at least 2.5 hours per week to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.


Type 2 diabetes is a worldwide epidemic that is influenced by several lifestyle factors such as diet, lack of exercise, and obesity. Modest lifestyle changes such as eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains and less red meat, introducing more exercise such as walking at least 2.5 hours every week, and achieving a 5-7% reduction in body weight may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in high‐risk individuals.

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2022-01-10 10:41:57By Health & Nutrition Expert


Health & Nutrition Expert

Health & Nutrition Expert

Writer and expert